A little over ten years ago, one of the best horror movies you may have never heard of was released. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a brilliant homage to the genre, striking just the right balance of self deprecation and humor while still telling a great scary story. It also has an incredible cast of characters, particularly the aforementioned slasher himself.
Unfortunately, the film never found much of an audience despite the best efforts of its rabid fanbase, myself included. Just about every person I’ve shown it to says they loved it. But for whatever reason, the movie never developed a wide enough viewership to warrant a sequel. After a failed Kickstarter campaign in 2012, it looked like Leslie’s return may never happen.
But thanks to an Indiegogo campaign this year, we finally get to see the much anticipated prequel/sequel/remake (i.e. spreemake) in comic book form. The book is based on the original story/shooting script by David. J. Stieve and Scott Glosserman, which has been adapted and drawn by brilliant horror artist, Nathan Thomas Milliner.
Last week, the first two issues of Before the Mask were delivered to campaign backers. They will be available to the public (along with the third issue) in a collected edition later this year or in early 2018. Until then, this Vernonite is happy to give you a quick look at whether the first two chapters live up to Leslie’s awesome legacy (so far).
The book opens with an on-camera interview featuring Taylor and Doug (the two surviving crew members from the original film), Doc Halloran, and Leslie Vernon himself. After a brief debate about Doug’s sexual orientation, we flash back to a few years ago, where a movie based on the original/embellished Leslie Legend is being made.
Unfortunately, the production is experiencing a high rate of attrition due to a slew of accidental deaths. You can probably guess who the first suspect is, especially once Doc Halloran shows up. To be fair, though, the deaths don’t appear to be Leslie’s M.O at all. Either way, the film’s director makes it his new mission to catch the killer (whoever that may be) before the studio shuts them down.
This leads Doc and the director to seek out Taylor and Doug, who are currently working on a To Catch a Predator-type television program — only the targets on this show are potential/wannabe mass murders. After being convinced to help stop Leslie (if he’s even involved), they make a trip to Glenn Echo to see if some old friends are willing to lend them a hand…
Even if we don’t have the actors portraying them, it’s great to have these characters interacting with each other again. Well, most of them, anyway. We’ll get to that in a minute.
In addition to the great dialogue, the script is filled with lots of genuinely funny meta humor about both the horror genre and the original film itself.
As far as the story goes, I love how the world we saw in Behind the Mask — one where serial killers like Freddie, Jason, and Leslie actually exist — was kept intact, providing a great way for us to find out what Taylor and Doug have been up to since the Harvest Murders. It makes the type of horror Leslie perpetrated almost seem quaint in a twisted sort of away, which makes his return and potential involvement (or non-involvement) in the bizarre movie set murders a way to keep things fresh and interesting.
It’s also a lot of fun getting to see a dramatized version of Leslie’s initial/exaggerated origin story, especially when it’s being drawn by Milliner.
Milliner’s art is always good, but it occasionally crosses over into photo-realistic territory…which you think would be good, but actually ends looking a bit incongruent with the rest of the beautifully rendered book.
That’s a pretty minor issue, though. The book’s biggest problem is a lack of Leslie Vernon. Part of the reason I reviewed the first two issues together instead of separately (besides laziness) is that aside from the opening and a fake flashback, he doesn’t even get involved in the narrative until the tail end of the second chapter.
Also, as much as I love Behind the Mask, it’s still a little-known horror movie from over ten years ago. This current continuation of the franchise is great for long time fans like me, but it’s definitely not new reader friendly. If the book is counting on building an audience from a pool who liked the movie enough to buy a comic book sequel, it’s going to be tough getting to the end.
That being said, this book should absolutely be on every Vernonite’s pull list. Milliner has done a fantastic job taking the story’s original script and turning it into a beautiful comic. It may not be the movie we wanted, but the book still captures all the things we loved about the original — while also showing the potential for a new chapter in Leslie’s story that could be a hell of a lot of fun.